Mayor Steve Noble said this week he will sign a new ethics law that passed a divided Common Council earlier this month. The law will replace current legislation that critics charged was difficult to enforce and so onerous that it could have brought civic affairs to a standstill. In a prepared statement issued Wednesday, Noble called the new law “far more appropriate, comprehensive and enforceable than its predecessor.”
Lawmakers have been working to amend the law since early this year. Critics say that conflict of interest provisions in a 2014 law were so broad that they made it virtually impossible for anyone connected with city government or their family members to work as a professional or run a business in Kingston.
City Assistant Corporation Counsel Dan Gartenstein, who helped draft the new law, said the issue was especially acute on volunteer boards like the zoning board of appeals. In some cases, Gartenstein said, boards were unable to render decisions because they could not get a quorum of members free from conflicts under the law.
The new law narrows the conflict of interest definitions to focus more on city employees with actual discretionary decision making power and actual financial motive to make a particular decision.
It also fixes an issue with financial disclosure forms. Under the previous law, dozens of city employees were required to fill out annual statements listing financial holdings, debts and business relationships. But the law included no provisions for opening and examining the sealed envelopes. Under the new law, the city’s ethics board is charged with examining the forms annually or in response to a reported ethical breach.
The new legislation also changes the makeup of the ethics board. Under the earlier law, members of the board were appointed by and served at the pleasure of the mayor. The new law appoints members to staggered four-year terms and states that members may only be removed for cause with Common Council approval. The law also calls for some board members to be appointed based on recommendations from the council rather than at the sole discretion of the mayor.